- First baseman Ji-Man Choi’s agency in Korea recently spoke to the media about their client’s current foray into free agency and revealed that he’s received offers (presumably of the minor league variety) from the Yankees, Angels, Rays, A’s, Brewers, Marlins, Cubs, Reds, Orioles, Twins, Braves, Blue Jays and White Sox (English link via Jee-ho Yoo of South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency). The 26-year-old Choi slugged a pair of homers in 18 plate appearances with the Yankees last year and posted a strong year with their Triple-A affiliate, slashing .288/.373/.538 in 87 games. In parts of five Triple-A campaigns, Choi has posted a robust .298/.390/.479 batting line.
- While the Reds were looking for one-year deals for relievers, they were comfortable enough with Jared Hughes’ track record to sign the righty to a two-year deal, general manager Dick Williams tells Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Williams feels Hughes adds some needed veteran experience to a Reds bullpen that struggled badly in 2017, and the GM didn’t close the door on his team acquiring another veteran reliever before the winter is over.
Tomorrow is the two-year anniversary of the trade that sent Aroldis Chapman from the Reds to the Yankees. While Chapman is currently ensconced as New York’s closer, just as he was in the wake of the swap, the intervening period has seen quite a few twists and turns.
Six years before the trade, the Reds had landed Chapman as a free agent, staking a hefty $30.25MM bet on the power pitcher from Cuba. He proved the team wise, providing 319 innings of 2.17 ERA pitching and racking up 146 saves.
Entering the 2015-16 offseason, though, it seemed clear that it was time for both sides to move on. Chapman had just one year of control remaining, after all, and the Reds were coming off of a 64-win season. While the team struggled, Chapman was his typically dominant self, and seemed positioned to draw a big return.
In early December, it seemed Chapman was destined to join Kenley Jansen to form a terrifying one-two punch in Los Angeles. Precise details of the proposed Dodgers swap were never clear, though reportedly the Reds would not have added then-top L.A. prospects Julio Urias, Corey Seager, or Jose De Leon.
Just when it seemed a deal was imminent, though, a stunning off-field development intervened, as reports emerged that Chapman had been arrested earlier in the offseason for a troubling domestic incident. With Chapman’s reputation tarnished and a possible suspension looming, the Dodgers backed away and the market dried up.
Thus it was that the Yankees stepped into the void and placed a somewhat controversial bet on the game’s most intimidating reliever. Despite already carrying a fantastic late-inning duo of Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, the Yanks saw an opportunity to create a three-headed bullpen monster. They shipped four prospects — third baseman Eric Jagielo, second baseman Tony Renda, and right-handers Rookie Davis and Caleb Cotham — to Cincinnati to acquire Chapman.
The risk, really, was never on the field or even in the course of the investigation: Chapman was one of the surest relievers in baseball and had he received a sufficiently lengthy suspension, he’d have been eligible for another season of arbitration. Rather, the Yanks were gambling that Chapman would be valuable enough to warrant absorbing a significant public relations hit.
While he was never arrested or charged with a crime, Chapman was rightly criticized and ultimately suspended for what commissioner Rob Manfred determined to be violent actions directed toward his girlfriend. He eventually acknowledged he “should have exercised better judgment” but insisted he “did not in any way harm [his] girlfriend that evening.”
At the same time, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the Yankees benefited greatly from taking him on. After returning from a thirty-game ban, Chapman picked up right where he left off, throwing 31 1/3 innings of 2.01 ERA pitching leading into the trade deadline. With the Yanks in a less-than-promising postseason position, the organization decided to market Chapman in the summer trade market, finding interest far more robust than had existed just months earlier.
Thus it was that the Yankees ended up with a foursome of players immensely more valuable than that which it had shipped to Cincinnati. New York sold the rights to rent Chapman for the remainder of 2016 to the Cubs, who obviously saw him as the final piece needed on a World Series-caliber roster.
Infielder Gleyber Torres was the undeniable headliner; he’s now seen as one of the game’s very best prospects. Though Rashad Crawford has yet to show much since coming to New York, outfielder Billy McKinney is now fresh off of a promising season in which he restored some of his former prospect luster. And the Yanks even came away with right-hander Adam Warren, who has provided 87 2/3 productive relief innings since the swap and is still under team control via arbitration for one more season.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that Chapman ended up returning to the Bronx after his brief stint with the Cubs. In the first year of his record-setting $86MM contract, the now-29-year-old Chapman wasn’t quite as devastating as usual — his 3.22 ERA was the second-highest mark of his career, and he has never before ended a season with a lower strikeout rate than his 12.3 K/9 — but he still averaged a triple-digit heater. While there are some signs of concern, including a plummeting swinging-strike rate, Chapman generally figures to remain one of baseball’s better closers for some time.
As for the Reds? Only Davis and Jagielo remain in the organization. As for the former, there’s certainly hope he’ll be a MLB contributor. Davis did make it up to the majors in 2017, though he struggled quite a bit and was less than dominant at the highest level of the minors. Jagielo, 25, struggled in his first attempt at Triple-A in 2017 and does not rate among the organization’s top thirty prospects, per MLB.com.
It remains a major disappointment for the Reds that they were unable to fully capitalize on Chapman. While some argued that the organization was foolish not to have carried him into the 2016 season rather than accepting a discounted return, that action would have come with its own significant risks. If there’s a silver lining, perhaps it’s that the Reds have since come to realize another successful investment in a high-powered Cuban reliever. Raisel Iglesias has now established himself as one of the game’s best young closers. For the time being, at least, it seems he’s staying put as the anchor of the Cincinnati bullpen.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
In a dramatic and suspenseful article, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic chronicles the recent harrowing life-or-death race to get Astros first base coach Rich Dauer to Houston Methodist Hospital. On the day of the Astros’ championship parade, Dauer was present at the official ceremony to honor the team. He began to stagger as if drunk, and stepped to the back of the stage. From there, a panicked attempt to get Dauer to the hospital amidst a crowd of millions of people unfolded behind the scenes. The piece is incredibly well-written, and thankfully has a happy ending. It’s definitely worth a full read.
More from around MLB as we approach the end of December…
- Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun wonders if this offseason’s drama surrounding Orioles star Manny Machado could have been avoided. Meoli takes a look at the chances the Orioles had to explore trades or a contract extension with their prized third baseman, but he ultimately comes to the conclusion that there was never a reason to trade him until now. It also seems as though by the time Machado was a safe fixture in the O’s lineup, his value was sky-high, and he was close enough to free agency that an extension didn’t make sense for him (or his agent). While it remains to be seen whether Baltimore will actually end up dealing Machado, Meoli’s piece sheds some light on a tough set of circumstances for the Orioles.
- The Giants and Reds have remained active in talks about a trade that would send Billy Hamilton to San Francisco, according to Jon Morosi of MLB.com. The Reds have reportedly shown interest in Heliot Ramos, who is largely considered to be the Giants’ best prospect (he credits The Athletic with first report of this news). Hamilton, of course, is regarded as one of the best defenders in the game, and also creates a lot of runs with his speed alone. His career .298 on-base percentage is widely regarded as his achilles heel, but he could still provide plenty of value as an elite center fielder in AT&T Park’s spacious outfield. A couple months back, I wrote about the trade market for Hamilton, noting that the Giants were the best match for his services.
The Reds have agreed to a minor-league deal with righty Daniel Wright, according to SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo (via Twitter). It seems reasonable to anticipate that he’ll receive an MLB camp invite, though that’s not yet clear.
Wright, 26, has worked to a 5.61 ERA with 4.9 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 over 59 1/3 MLB innings in the prior two seasons. All of those outings came with the Angels, who claimed Wright from Cincinnati — the organization that originally drafted him — in early September of 2016.
All in all, it was a tough 2017 campaign for Wright, who sits at only about 90 mph with his fastball but works in three offspeed offerings (a change, slider, and curve) with regularity. He logged 92 2/3 innings at Triple-A, almost entirely as a starter, but was torched for a 6.99 ERA and managed only 5.9 K/9 with 3.4 BB/9.
The Reds announced that they’ve signed right-handed reliever Jared Hughes to a two-year contract with a club option for the 2020 season as well. Hughes, who was non-tendered by the division-rival Brewers earlier this month, is a client of SSG Baseball.
SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo reports that it’s a two-year, $4.5MM contract for Hughes, who will earn $2.125MM in both 2018 and 2019 (Twitter links). The club option is valued at $3MM and comes with a $250K buyout, per Cotillo, who also notes that Hughes can earn up to $750K worth of incentives based on appearances in each year of the contract (including the option year, if exercised). Hughes would take home $100K for reaching 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 and 50 games pitched, and he’ll earn $75K for reaching 55 and 60 appearances as well. For a reliever that has averaged 68 appearances per year over the past four seasons, those incentive packages are highly attainable.
Hughes, 32, has long posted solid run-prevention numbers in the NL Central, combining for 250 1/3 innings of 2.55 ERA ball across four seasons between the Pirates and Brewers from 2014-17. He’s also consistently shown a knack for inducing ground-balls (career 61.2 percent), but a lack of strikeouts has seemingly limited Hughes’ earning potential in recent years.
Hughes has averaged just 5.5 K/9 across the past four seasons and, in addition to being non-tendered by the Brewers, was released by the Pirates in Spring Training 2016. However, a fastball that averaged nearly 94 mph this past season and a healthy swinging-strike rate of 11.6 percent suggest that perhaps he can maintain the improved 7.2 K/9 clip he posted in ’17. Then again, the 2017 season also saw Hughes allow a career-worst 36.7 percent hard-contact rate, which contributed to a respectable but unspectacular .318 wOBA from opposing hitters (though that number was directly in line with expectations based on his batted-ball profile, per Statcast). Certainly, based on today’s contract, the Reds seem to place a higher value on Hughes’ skill set than their two division rivals that have cut Hughes loose over the past two years.
Raisel Iglesias is entrenched in the closer’s role in Cincinnati, but Hughes will join a setup corps that also included right-hander Michael Lorenzen and left-hander Wandy Peralta. Several of Cincinnati’s late-inning spots remain up for grabs, but Hughes seems likely to lock down one of those spots for the foreseeable future.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- The Giants are still in the market for an outfielder and bullpen help, and some in the organization think both needs could be met in one trade, NBC Sports Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic writes. The reliever trade market in particular is more appealing to some in the office than signing a bullpen arm. On the outfield front, the Giants are still talking with the Reds about Billy Hamilton, though Cincinnati is still making “high demands” for the speedy center fielder. As Pavlovic notes, the Giants could be even less likely to move young talent after swapping Christian Arroyo and two young pitching prospects to the Rays as part of the Evan Longoria trade.
John Mozeliak (President of Baseball Operations for the Cardinals) expressed that he’s content with his club’s rotation, via Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Luke Weaver, and the recently-signed Miles Mikolas are likely to occupy the first four spots in the rotation. Mozeliak says that a lot depends on how Adam Wainwright looks; however, John Gant and Tyler Lyons could also be in the mix. Mozeliak feels as though the Cards are “fine,” which would seem to make it less likely that St. Louis will be in the mix for big names such as Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta.
More pitching notes from around the league…
- Free agent Jesse Chavez has offers from five different MLB clubs to fill a starter/long reliever role, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN reports, adding that the right-hander is expected to make a decision this weekend. Chavez pitched 138 innings for the Angels in 2017, and although his 5.35 ERA seems somewhat uninspiring, his 4.43 xFIP suggests he might have pitched a bit better than the surface results indicate. He also walked fewer than three batters per nine innings for the third season in a row. In addition to the Angels, Chavez has pitched for the Dodgers, Blue Jays, Athletics, Royals and Pirates over the course of his ten-year big league career.
- The Reds have recently spoken with right-hander Craig Stammen, Mark Sheldon of MLB.com reports. Sheldon notes that Stammen is a product of the University of Dayton, which is within an hour of Cincinnati. The 33-year-old reliever tossed 80 1/3 innings across 60 appearances for the Friars in 2017, posting a 3.14 ERA. Stammen began his big league career as a starter for the Nationals, but has pitched exclusively out of the bullpen since 2011.
- Before choosing to sign with the Twins, Fernando Rodney had offers from three other big league clubs. The Rangers, Mets and Tigers all tried to sign the right-hander, according to a tweet from Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press. Rodney will reportedly have a chance to hold down the closer role in Minnesota this season; he can earn up to $6MM if he meets incentives in his contract, which includes a club option for the 2019 season.
- Talks between the Giants and Reds about Billy Hamilton failed to materialize since the Giants balked at moving Heliot Ramos, The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly reports. Ramos has been a hot commodity this winter, as reportedly just about every team the Giants have engaged with in trade talks has asked about the 2017 first-rounder. While the Reds would have to drop their asking price, Baggarly doesn’t think San Francisco has given up on pursuing Hamilton, as an improved outfield defense would go a long way towards helping the Giants again become competitive.
The Royals announced that they’ve acquired right-handers Brad Keller and Burch Smith in trades with the Reds and Mets following today’s Rule 5 Draft. Kansas City will send a player to be named later or cash to both Cincinnati and New York in each trade. Keller was selected with the No. 5 pick out of the D-backs organization, while Smith was selected out of the Rays’ system.
Keller spent the entire 22 season in Double-A despite pitching most of the season at the age of 21. He made 26 starts and totaled 130 2/3 frames with a 4.68 ERA, 7.7 K/9, 3.9 BB/9 and a 49.6 percent ground-ball rate. He had been considered the No. 12 prospect in the D-backs’ organization by Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com but was unprotected on at last month’s deadline to set 40-man rosters.
The Rule 5 selection could pave the way back to the Majors for Smith for the first time since 2013. Smith tossed 36 1/3 innings for the Padres as a 23-year-old that year, and though he logged an ugly 6.44 ERA, he also punched out 46 batters in that time.
Now 27 years of age, Smith has seen two seasons wiped out by Tommy John surgery and other arm troubles. But, he was healthy in 56 1/3 minor league innings as he worked his way back across three minor league levels this year — his first action on a mound since 2014. Smith posted a 2.40 ERA with 8.9 K/9 against 3.8 BB/9 before impressing with 29 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings in the Arizona Fall League.
Both pitchers will retain their Rule 5 status with the Royals, meaning neither can be optioned to the minors without first being exposed to waivers and then offered back to their original organizations for $50K. If either lasts the entire season on the Royals’ big league roster (with at least 90 days on the active roster and not on the DL), he’ll become their property without any restrictions in 2019.